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Ky. Has Most Church Abuse Lawsuits

Jun 8, 2002 | AP

More than 120 lawsuits have been filed against Roman Catholic dioceses in Kentucky, the most in any state, and nearly 50 of the alleged victims have claimed sexual abuse by the same priest.

"If the number was twice that, it wouldn't surprise me," said Jim Strader, one of scores of plaintiffs who have sued since mid-April.

"The church hierarchy here continually moved these priests to different parishes, even though they were known as pedophiles, rather than dealing with the issue," said Strader, who has an outdoors shows on Louisville radio and cable television. "Now all that evil is coming home to roost."

The Archdiocese of Louisville, which includes 220,000 parishioners in 24 counties, has been named in 119 of the 122 lawsuits. Forty-eight of them, including Strader's, allege abuse by the Rev. Louis E. Miller over a 45-year span. Miller has denied the accusations, including one that came from his nephew.

Three of the lawsuits allege sexual abuse by Lexington Bishop J. Kendrick Williams when he was a priest in Louisville. Williams has denied the allegations, and is on administrative leave until an investigation is complete.

James Francis, a University of Kentucky associate professor of classics with an emphasis on Christianity, said the number of lawsuits in Louisville is "shocking," though understandable.

"The Catholic population is most concentrated around Louisville and northern Kentucky," said Francis, who was a Benedictine monk for 12 years. "Most of the priests who have been accused are quite old. If the accusations are true, you've got 30 and 40 years worth of victims of serial pedophiles coming out all at once. The cases could get larger."

Nearly all of the plaintiffs in the Louisville cases are represented by attorney William McMurry, who has been a vocal advocate for his clients.

He said the fact victims have not only sued, but also agreed to media interviews, has probably brought out some people who would otherwise have hung back.

"I'm quite confident that putting the human face on the victim made all the difference in the world," he said.

In a counter move, the archdiocese has cited a state law that calls for lawsuits to be sealed if they make child sex abuse allegations more than five years old. McMurry and The Courier-Journal argue the law is unconstitutional and are awaiting a judge's ruling on the matter.

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